Mother gets life for keeping girl in closet

Published Jan. 30, 2002|Updated Sept. 2, 2005

A woman was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for confining her severely malnourished 8-year-old daughter in a filthy closet.

Barbara Atkinson and her former husband, Kenneth, were arrested last June after the girl, who weighed 25 pounds, was discovered near death.

Jury foreman Albert Martinez said they felt no sentence less than life would be appropriate. He cited testimony that the girl would suffer emotional and cognitive problems her entire life.

"It touched me in a way I'll never forget," he said.

After the jury's sentencing, the girl's foster mother, Sabrina Kavanaugh, was allowed to address Atkinson.

"How am I supposed to explain to her what you did?" asked Kavanaugh in tears.

Atkinson, also sobbing, said: "I don't know. I thought about that."

Defense attorney Brad Lollar said his client had suffered a traumatic childhood. He said that during the first three years of Atkinson's life, she was neglected by her birth mother, a prostitute and drug addict, then placed in an adoptive home where she did not feel loved.

"Barbara is of course upset," Lollar said after sentencing. "She told us to tell everyone she's sorry. She does sincerely regret what she did."

Atkinson, 30, pleaded guilty last week to a charge of bodily injury to a child. She faced between five years and life in prison. Prosecutors said she will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

Kenneth Atkinson is awaiting trial. He is charged with serious bodily injury to a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Kavanaugh, who with her husband is seeking permanent custody, said the girl has gained weight and is doing well.